Director: Cathy Yan Release: February 7, 2020
Sometimes you go into a film not knowing how you will leave your experience. Some films you go to expecting to be captivated for two hours, or perhaps you know it will be bad but you have friends who wanted to see it. There are some where you leave with a feeling of disgust for having just at been subjected to such a mess. Maybe you can only feel disappointment, possibly betrayed. I didn’t know what to think when I went to see Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (that will be the only time I type the full title) but what I didn’t expect was what I left with: pure delight.
I should preference that I did not enjoy Suicide Squad in the slightest. I found it dull, lifeless and a waste of my time. The character of Harley in that was nothing more than a reason to have the Joker in the film. So going to see a film based on the character from that earlier interpretation of the character did not excite me. But the movie being largely centered around her and allowing Margot Robbie to have time to absorb and mold the character as her own was exactly what she needed. The film does so much more right than just fix one character, it has a wonderful scene of fast pacing and wacky antics without feeling forced is a testament to how good of a director Cathy Yen truly is.
Harley is fresh off the break-up with the Joker, skimming past the ordeal and her relationship in a witty and fun animated opening. A smart move on the movies sake is never showing the Joker, though implied that this is the same Harley from Suicide Squad. She tries to build herself a life without her powerful, insane and controlling ex. Though the message is “you don’t need a man to make you strong ” is there, it reminds you that she still does terrible things with this newfound freedom, so you shouldn’t necessarily be trying to relate to her. Take the message at face value, don’t try to be like Harley.
While Harley assumes that she can power through everything while also hungover and trying to eat the best breakfast sandwiche in town, Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) wants to capture her for all the chaos she has caused him throughout the years. She’s no longer protected by the Clown Prince of Crime, nothing is stopping him from taking what he believes is his. He is a crazed, self-absorbed man out for blood at every moment, and Ewan sells every second. You hate him for being a psycho, but can’t help but want to see what he does next. And on their tail is Detective Montoya, desperately trying to catch them both while working in a misogynistic policen station. All of this happens as a young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) on the streets decides to pickpocket the wrong person and winds up in more trouble than anyone could ask for. She needs Harleys help if she doesn’t want to become the next mask in Roman Sionis’s collection.
While the above synopsis does sound as though the film has an overlying theme of “men hold back the girls” it’s not as black and white. The film does present that all sides have their flaws, yet everyone is also their own person. I really enjoyed the duality of the story, that everyone has flaws no matter what walk of life you come from. The story is also told from Harleys perspective, and with her rapid ADD she tells sections in the wrong order. This makes the film feels sparatic and jumbled, which is the correct tone for a movie about the insane Harley Quinn. That and with the constant bright colors make this one of the most fun movies I’ve seen of the year (thus far).
Margot Robbie needs to be given extra credit for her character work. I remember after Suicide Squad both critics and audiences praise her for giving Harley her first on-screen portrayal, and I really didn’t know why. Yes, she looks the role to a T but she didnt have a character to work with, just a crazy girl who was there so we could see the Joker. This is her movie though, and takes full advantage of it. You get to see the intricacies of her, a PhD psychologist who fell for the wrong guy. Once that guy is gone, what do you get? A character you can build from the ground up and is actually fascinating to watch.
I’ve gone nearly the full review without actually mentioning the titular “Birds of Prey.” Which is my main gripe with the film, it’s almost unessesary to include the team itself. It’s why the revised title is “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” because the main plot has basically nothing to do with the team. While I do enjoy how the team ultimately forms (eat your heart out, Suicide Squad) but doesn’t feel necessary in a movie with such an interesting premise and characters. I don’t have an problems with the team or those in it, each besides Harley (who is the entire run time) get enough time to establish themselves and feel like actual people, just don’t really fit until the third act.
I left the theater delighted. An incredibly fun movie about empowerment yet not pandering, zanny characters that actually fit in their story, and a villain that I was wanting to fail without rolling my eyes. It all comes together for one of the best superhero (supervillain?) movies I’ve seen without the crazy special effects. It’s a shame that it’s doing poorly at the box office, so I have to recommend you give it your time. I leave you with this one last thought…the official title is way too long.